Our Lord in the Attic: A Case Study



My name is Robert Schillemans and together with my colleague Annemiek van Soestbergen we are responsible for the moveable collection. It is important to understand that our museum has a very special collection, in that the building itself - with its interior decoration, fittings and finishes - is not only part of the collection but is also considered to be the most important. For more information on the building, I direct you to our colleague Thijs Boers, who, as the curator of the building, will be happy to inform you.

The other part of our collection consists of movable items, such as paintings, prints, sculptures and liturgical objects. Of our moveable collections those objects that belong to the original inventory of the church are considered to be of great importance. But our collection also includes many objects that have been collected after the house became a museum in 1887. These represent the cultural heritage of catholic Amsterdam from the late 16th until early 20th Century.

Madonna and Child, late 17th century

Showcase with relics (in the room behind the altar)

Showcase with some of the ecclesiastical gold and silverware (on the first gallery).


Baptism font just after use 11 Aug 2006.

selection for assessment Collection catalogue (PDF, 5.5MB)

The moveable collection

The moveable collection of the museum consists of 7,000 objects, dating from the 16th century to the present day. Some objects have been in the building since it first became a church (e.g. the Madonna statue in the Lady chapel), while the majority of the collection entered in the years after it became a museum. The collection illustrates the history and tradition of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. There are paintings, statues, devotional objects and ceremonial objects. Special elements of the collection are formed by the objects related to the hidden churches in Amsterdam; the patron saint of the church, St. Nicholas; and the Miracle of Amsterdam (a local legend dating back to 1345).

In a summary, the collection is made up from:

Collection unit % of total
Books 43%
Works on paper 21%
Metal objects 10%
Inorganic, non-metal objects 7%
Archival materials 5%
Paintings 3%
Wooden sculptures 3%
Furniture 2%
Other 2%

Bible on the altar (photo: B. Ankersmit)The moveable collection is used to decorate the period rooms or to illustrate educational themes, e.g. the history of the Catholic Church in Amsterdam and the Miracle of Amsterdam. The moveable collection consists of several outside loans, which are used to complement the historic interiors and/or themes.

In the church several paintings and painted wooden statues are on open display. On the altar a bible is displayed and in the galleries are showcases with some of the ecclesiastical gold and silverware.

During services in the church, some religious objects (paraments) are used. Most of these objects do not belong to the collection and are considered props. However, some objects from the collection may be used in ceremonies. An example is the baptism font, which normally is part of the display in the room behind the altar, but is filled with water and placed in the church for baptism ceremonies. The organ is also still in use.

On estimate, 20% of the collection is on display at any given time - the rest is in storage. Most of these objects are on open display, but some are displayed in showcases.

Exhibition of modern paintings in the sael (photo: M. Versluijs)We organize several (four to five) temporary exhibitions per year. We have a couple of special exhibition rooms for this purpose. But, we like also to mix some of our temporary exhibitions in with the permanent display, which often creates fresh and challenging concepts. Thus we try to bring together different generations or religious groups from our society.

There are some issues with these temporary exhibits: we are aware that the interiors are not very flexible in terms of exhibition design. Dismantling existing presentations is sometimes problematic, since the logistics in this historic house are challenging.



Museum during 2005 roof restoration (photo: B. Ankersmit)enlarge

Museum during the 2005 roof restoration.

download Division of cleaning tasks PDF, 43KB)

download Tasks for spring cleaning (PDF, 41KB)

Moveable collection management

The moveable collection is almost completely documented in paper form – information on collection, provenance, condition and treatment are kept in binders. Currently, the collection is being registered in a special computer museum database called Adlib Museum Standard. The museum is supported by a contracted IT specialist. We use a location registration system, but this is at the moment incomplete and the retrieval of objects often has to rely on our collective memory.

We keep an incident logbook, in which newly discovered damage to building and collection is recorded. An example from recent times records a calamity near the completion of the roof restoration: the plumber had lifted the lead seal along the length of the building (SW wall) and had left the site temporarily. Although the weather was fine when the plumber was working, in his absence it changed drastically and there was a heavy downpour of rain.  Rainwater penetrated the building and ran along the SW wall in the church. Objects hung or placed near this wall were removed quickly, but some objects showed signs of water damaged. These objects have been surveyed and will be conserved (insurance case).

My colleague Peter Schoutens can explain about our cleaning procedures. Any remedial treatment of the moveable collection (conservation, restoration) is planned ahead. On the basis of previous condition reports, drawn up by conservators, several objects are treated each year. In some cases, necessary treatment is often postponed because of the current local climate conditions.

We are located in a historic house, where space is limited. Unfortunately we lack a transit area where incoming and outgoing materials and objects can be dealt with appropriately, as well as a quarantine area, where incoming object may be kept separate from the collection.

© J. Paul Getty Trust / Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage / Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder